The Taglit-Birthright Israel program, which sends young Jews on free trips to Israel, celebrated its milestone 500,000th participant this week.
In a ceremony in Tel Aviv on Wednesday, 24-year-old Molly Dodd from New Jersey presented Birthright cofounders Michael Steinhardt and Charles Bronfman with framed letters from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu from 1998, in which he gave his blessing for the program to begin.
Dodd said that, following the death of her parents, she had no affiliation or involvement in the Jewish community when she was growing up. In the last two years, however, Dodd has taken steps to rediscover her Jewish heritage and hopes to choose a Hebrew name and celebrate her bat mitzvah on her maiden visit to Israel.
“Molly embodies what Taglit, literally translated as ‘discovery,’ is all about, as she travels to define herself as a member of the Jewish community for the rest of her life,” Taglit-Birthright Israel CEO Gidi Mark said at the event.
Since 2000, approximately 500,000 Jews aged 18-26, from over 66 countries and all 50 US states, have gone on Birthright trips. The free 10-day Jewish identity-building trips immerse young adults in Israeli culture and Jewish history.
In addition, 65,000 Israelis have participated in Birthright’s Mifgash program, which brings together Israelis and Diaspora Jews.